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How to identify dandelion

Updated on February 28, 2013

What is dandelion?

Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale) is considered in many places a noxious weed. You probably played with it as a kid, blowing the seeds in the wind, and fought with it as an adult trying to comply with proper garden etiquette.

Like most weeds, it is persistent, hard to eradicate, with a very efficient reproduction system and develops in different types of soils, temperatures and water conditions. It prefers somewhat wet soils with not much competition. They are actually the first weeds to colonize distressed land because the flying seeds can go a long way.

It also happens to be edible from flower to root, and packed with nutrients. The leaves can replace any food we prepare with spinach, the flowers make a great tea, and the root can work as a coffee extender.

Many health benefits are associated with dandelion: It is diuretic, cleanses the liver, and has anti-inflammatory properties.

So the question is: why fight to eradicate a superfood that is packed with benefits and grows right on your backyard? Why go and buy spinach, when you can pick it up fresh at the moment of eating? It doesn´t get fresher than that… and if you keep your garden chemical free, you have real organic food for free. Not a bad deal at all.

Dandelion Ebook

Dandelion Ebook, FREE Download
Dandelion Ebook, FREE Download

This lens contains information from the Ebook "Dandelion, Health from your garden". You can get it completely FREE clicking on the image above.

Dandelion plant
Dandelion plant

Spotting a dandelion plant

One of the main issues when harvesting wild plants is to make sure we have the right one, and not a poisonous cousin. In this case, it is easy because all the dandelion "posers" are edible as well.

Dandelion has a very characteristic shape with a floret of leaves on the base, and a flower rising on a single steam up to 30 cm. The leaves are shaped as the "mouth of a lion" and the flower is bright and yellow. Once the plant seeds, you have those beautiful puff balls, kids of all ages love to blow in the wind.

The seeds germinate easier in warm climates with some dirt and some humidity. They do not need any special treatment. Since the leaves form close to the ground, they do not withstand competition from long grass. They do great in cracks in the sidewalks for example.

Dandelion is a perennial plant, the flowers appear in the early spring and stay around coming and going almost until fall, when they vanish till the next spring.

It is better to collect the leaves before the flowers appear; they become very bitter after that. The bitterness can be reduced by boiling the leaves.

Any time you see the floret, the yellow flower or the puffball... pay attention, you might be in front of a beautiful dandelion.

Dandelion flower
Dandelion flower

Dandelion flower

The flower is bright yellow and about 3 cm wide. It has many petals and the shape is somewhat convex looking from the side. From that perspective, you will also notice that it has a double set of sepals with the inferior one curving down. This is very unique of dandelion when you compare it with some of the similar species and an easy way to recognize it.

The peduncle is hollow, and it has a white sticky sap that can be used as glue.

Later on, the flower closes to prepare for the seeds. The full maturation process takes about one month, and at the end it opens up again to show the typical white sphere kids of all ages love to blow in the wind.

Dandelion leaf - front
Dandelion leaf - front

Dandelion leaf

Dandelion leaves are soft with a shape that looks like the mouth of a lion. This is the origin of the name actually, it is a deformation from the French: “dent de leon” (teeth of lion); in Spanish, the name is “diente de león” which has the same meaning. In the present day, the name in French is “pissenlit” which is related with its diuretic properties.

In the image you can see a typical leaf. New plants can have leaves not so well defined; once the leaves are cut (for example with a lawn mower), the ones that grow later have a more definite shape. The texture is usually hairless, but rarely there are soft – almost imperceptible – hairs on the front due to cross pollenization. There are around 50 species.

Eat the weeds - dandelion

Dandelion Lookalikes

- Wild Lettuce (Lactuca Virosa)

- Sow thistle (Sonchus Oleraceous)

- Cat´s Ear (Hypocaeris radicata)

Wild lettuce in the wild
Wild lettuce in the wild

Dandelion Lookalike: Wild Lettuce

Lactuca Virosa

Wild lettuce is one of my favorite "weeds" of all times, they are awesome in salad.

The leaves have a similar texture to dandelion, but they don´t have the lion teeth.

The flowers can be yellow or purple. The yellow ones are very similar to dandelion, but they have a single set of sepals, they are smaller and grow in groups.

Another difference is that it grows much taller.

It has relaxing properties, so don´t eat it if you need to be lucid afterwards.

Sow thistle flower
Sow thistle flower

Dandelion Lookalike: Sow Thistle

Sonchus Oleraceous

Sow thistles have a leaf floret similar to the one of dandelion on the base, but it grows in height later. The leaves change with time, from "chicory" style to a more complex design. The flowers are similar to the ones of dandelion but they do not grow as single flowers, and they are smaller.

They are edible and have very similar properties to dandelion. So if you confuse it, you are in good shape anyway. The taste is softer to dandelion, and you can find variations in leaves depending on where they grow and the age, from very soft to cardboard style.

Sonchus has many other variations, most of them edible. But, there can be texture issues (hairs, spikes and the like).

Cat´s ear plants
Cat´s ear plants

Dandelion lookalike: Cat´s Ear

Hypocaeris Radicata

This plant looks similar to dandelion as well, it is sometimes called false dandelion.

It has a base floret of leaves and yellow flowers. The leaves are slightly different to dandelion: for starters they are hairy; and instead of the sharp indentations, they show a soft wavy border. The flowers are different too--they are smaller, and they don´t have the double set of sepals, they also come in groups instead of singles. The seed ball is yellow instead of white and much smaller than dandelion´s.

Cat’s ear is edible, but the leaves can hold a mycosis known to affect horses. I don´t know of any human affected by it, but it is probably better not to eat the leaves raw just to be on the safe side. The flowers can be used in any recipe for dandelion flowers (see flower recipes).

Dandelion seeds
Dandelion seeds

Health benefits of dandelion

Dandelion has been used in traditional medicine since the down of time. An interesting detail is that it was used by cultures that are not known to have had contact.

Some of the benefits are: anti-inflammatory, diuretic and antibiotic.

It is a very nutritious green, considered among the 10 most nutritious. This alone adds many health benefits acting over vitamin and mineral deplection.

I added the health information from the Ebook Dandelion, Health from your garden to another lens. I went to the medical literature and found out what is the state of research, quite promising. You can see it in the lens Health benefits of dandelion.

Comments? questions? - They are all welcome!

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    • empathzone profile image
      Author

      empathzone 4 years ago

      @dahlia369: Thanks so much for coming by. :)

      I sometimes do not understand why go to the grocery store to buy lettuce when we have dandelion at home. My daughter doesn´t agree with me too much, but... :D

    • empathzone profile image
      Author

      empathzone 4 years ago

      @anonymous: They do, and it is good for them. One of the lookalikes, cat´s ear, sometimes suffer from fungus infection that can hurt the horses motor skills.

      This is why you might see recommendations of not allowing anything looking like dandelion where the horses eat. A sad solution though.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I remember my teacher said horses love dandelions

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 5 years ago

      Dandelion is certainly one of those plants that more than deserves lots of attention (not to mention its own lens!). It was always one of my favorite fresh spring salads, easy to identify and great tasting. Very much enjoyed your lens, thank you!! :)

    • profile image

      joydeepdam 5 years ago

      @empathzone: deutsch indeed complex (see my other post, income tax return, these words have only one word in deutsch and that is einkommensteuererklaerueng, don't know if i miss any letters).

      thanks for the detailed info, appreciate your time..i would for the first time give dandelion in salad a try :)

    • empathzone profile image
      Author

      empathzone 5 years ago

      @joydeepdam: Sprache Deutsche? That is as far as I got when I tried to learn German,

      OMG it is difficult! :)

      Dandelion is all edible, root, leaves and flowers. With the root you can make a coffee extender, the leaves replace anything you do with spinach, with the flowers you can do some lil things fried, tea, syrup and even wine.Very ductile.

      The health benefits are pretty awesome, and research is only starting. For example, the root showed prostate anticancer activity, while the leaves seem to work for breast cancer. It also has good anti-inflammatory properties and they apply to many different things, from asthma to liver problems.

      Thanks for coming by!

    • profile image

      joydeepdam 5 years ago

      informative lens...i hadn't considered that dandelion has health benefit. which part of the plant is edible ... leaf or stock? thanks for the lens and cheers from germany